USDA Debuts “MyPlate”
Just a week after I observed the FTC/USDA/CDC/FDA forum on food marketing to children in Washington, D.C., the USDA has released the new “MyPlate” symbol to replace the long-standing “food pyramid.” I was surprised to learn this change was coming (there was a pre-announcement last week) because the food pyramid was just updated with nearly equal fanfare (simultaneous cooking demonstrations on “Good Morning America” and “Today” this morning) just six years ago. This time, and not surprisingly, the first lady was involved in the announcement.
“When mom or dad comes home from a long day of work, we’re already asked to be a chef, a referee, a cleaning crew,” said First Lady Michelle Obama in a June 2 USDA press release. “So it’s tough to be a nutritionist, too. But we do have time to take a look at our kids’ plates. As long as they’re half full of fruits and vegetables, and paired with lean proteins, whole grains and low-fat dairy, we’re golden. That’s how easy it is.”
MyPlate dumps sugars, fats and oils that were on the pyramid and dedicates half the plate to fruits and veggies, the other half to grains and protein (rather than meat), and puts a side of dairy next to the plate.
“My one quibble?” Nestle writes in her blog yesterday, “Protein. I’m a nutritionist. Protein is a nutrient, not a food. Protein is not exactly lacking in American diets. The average American consumes twice the protein needed. Grains and dairy, each with its own sector, are important sources of protein in American diets.”
1992 Food Pyramid
The USDA has been providing food guides since 1916, and the symbol we are most familiar with these days is the “Food Guide Pyramid” issued in 1992 with “goals for both nutrient adequacy and moderation.” In 2005, the pyramid became “MyPyramid” with the incorporation of an icon to emphasize exercise.
Confused yet? Said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in yesterday’s press release: “What we have learned over the years is that consumers are bombarded by so many nutrition messages that it makes it difficult to focus on changes that are necessary to improve their diet.”
EnviroMedia’s “Food Hero” Campaign for Oregon State University
I hope MyPlate helps. This I know: When it comes to providing nutritious foods to their families, moms want to do the right thing. However, they are crunched for time and have a misperception that nutritious food is expensive and unattainable. We learned this in our “Food Hero” work based on research conducted by Oregon State University among SNAP recipients in that state. Our “Brighten Your Plate” message works great with USDA’s MyPlate emphasis from the national level.
Government vs. Industry Nutrition Messages
As Secretary Vilsack said, consumers are bombarded with food messages — and I would add not just from government campaigns but also from the food industry. As long as it’s consistent, authentic and not misleading, positive change in nutrition messaging should be welcome. But those are some big “ifs,” especially considering politics.
Laurie Whitsel of the American Heart Association urges the Interagency Working Group on Food Marketed to Children to add calorie limits and branding as a marketing tactic to the “Preliminary Proposed Nutrition Principles to Guide Industry Self-Regulatory Efforts.” She also urged them to move up the 2016 deadline by two years.
Back to the FTC/USDA/CDC/FDA forum on food marketing to children held May 24. Some 100 observers were present. As I reported last week, 21 food marketing and health organizations provided commentary, and transcripts are still pending. Written commentary is being accepted on the FTC’s website here through July 14. As of this afternoon, 99 groups have posted comments.
Elaine Kolish of the Council of Better Business Bureaus says its “Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative” with 17 leading companies has been making great progress.